When Kye Parry uploaded a video on YouTube of his nearly two-year-old son dancing to heavy metal, he didn’t think it would go further than a few views from friends and family.
“My sister got hold of it and put it on her Facebook page and it just went from there,” he told the ABC’sControl Z podcast.
“Metal Baby” went viral.
The video was posted to meme websites and blogs, and as it did, the views soared higher and higher.
Once it reached 15,000 views, Mr Parry said something unusual happened.
“I started getting emails and YouTube comments from people saying we’d like to purchase your video and put it out on other sources.”
These viral content companies use sophisticated software that continuously scans YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other websites looking for the next big hit.
If they can pick up a video that goes on to have millions of views, good advertising revenue follows and both the viral video licensing company and the content maker can stand to make a lot of money.
One of those companies is Storyful, which is now owned by NewsCorp – the ABC is also a client.
Storyful has a team of journalists around the world scouring the web searching for sharable social content.
“We have developed various tools that really alert us and give us early alerts to spikes in trending content,” Storyful journalist Olivia Rosenman said.
“So we use Reddit, we use Feedly, but we have also developed a range of our own in-house tools that really will flash a red light when something is spiking.”
Storyful monetises these videos, primarily through advertising, and media promotion.
Today Metal Baby is up to 63,000 views, and Mr Parry has received three cheques from Storyful since it was posted in November, but so far he has only made about $10.
Other YouTube videos have so many views they have passed into internet legend.
Matt Little was coming home on the subway one night and saw a rat dragging a piece of pizza down the stairs beside him.
“This beast was hauling what would be like a small motorcycle to him down the stairs,” he said.
Mr Little pulled out his phone and filmed it with the idea of showing his friends.
He posted it on Facebook but quickly realised he had something special when his friends started sharing it.
It gave him the idea to send the video to a few New York websites.
“I assumed I would get one of those, if they covered it at all, one of those afternoon posts that those sites usually put up like ‘oh here’s a weird thing that happened in New York, isn’t our city so dirty’.”
It took just three hours before Mr Little was hit with a flood of media requests from local news, cable news and talk shows.
As the views climbed, Mr Little also received licensing deal offers, and before long he too had signed with a viral content company.
His video became so popular Saturday Night Live performed “Pizza Rat” skits, the New York Times nominated it for Person of the Year and people got tattoos of it.
Today Pizza Rat has more than 9 million views.
“I’ve spoken to people who think I don’t have to work anymore or I’m going to have to be moving to a penthouse suite in New York city, and as much as I wish that their thoughts were my reality, it’s definitely not that,” Mr Little said.
Mr Little pursued every avenue he could to commercialise Pizza Rat.
“I had a little bit of savvy and I thought to myself, ‘I think it’d be really fun to have T-shirts, I think it’d be fun to kind of do a fake behind the scenes thing’.”
But in the end he only made a few thousand dollars from his video.
Mr Little said he was never in it for the money, and would be happy if Pizza Rat turns out to be the biggest thing that ever happens to him.
“Then how crazy right? Like how cool. I get to have one of the weirdest stories at the party for the rest of my life.”